Omar Zein


The Middle East has witnessed in the past two decades an increase in the number of internal conflicts within many states. Many of those internal conflicts had developed into a religious strife between Sunnis and Shi’as. Today in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain there is an ongoing conflicts between representatives of both sects; whether it is a state or transnational actors. The Middle East has not witnessed a struggle between the two most popular sects of Islam since the Ottoman-Safavid war in 16th century. To analyze the cause behind the rise in conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites; there must be an examination of the states and religious actors that contributed to the rise of this conflict. Therefore, this paper attempts to study each of Saudi Arabia and Iran; as they had played a large role in supporting Islamist movements in the Middle East. The relationship between both Saudi Arabia and Iran before the Islamic Revolution had managed to stabilize the relationship between Sunnis and Shi’as. However, a change of the Iranian regime’s identity and its Shiite Islamization had sparked a tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Later, the conflict between both states had moved into other states such as Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen. In order to analyze the impact of religious identity on the struggle between the two states; the paper examines each states’ identity formation, their linkage to other religious Islamist movement and how it contributed to an increase in internal conflicts in the Middle East.


Political Science Department

Degree Name

MA in Political Science

Graduation Date


Submission Date

July 2015

First Advisor

Kazziha, Walid

Committee Member 1

Kassem, Maye

Committee Member 2

El Nur, Ibrahim


146 p

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Saudi Arabia -- Foreign relations -- Iran.

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Iran -- Foreign relations -- Saudi Arabia.


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I would like to deeply express my gratitude to the many people that have helped me throughout my MA program. First, I would like to thank all of my professors for what they have taught me throughout the past three years. I would like to especially thank my thesis advisor, professor Walid Kazziha, as I am forever grateful for his guidance, assistance and patience. I would also to thank my readers, Professor Ibrahim El Nur and Professor Maye Kassem for their valuable insight and feedback on my thesis and I am forever indebted for their contribution. I am also grateful for the assistance provided by Ms. Yomna Amr as without her help I would have not completed my masters. I would also like to acknowledge the help provided by my classmates, co-workers and all of my close friends. I would like to thank Basma El Etreby and Dina Khalil for always being there for me in tough times. I would also like to thank my former boss Dr. Dina Omar for her encouragement during my masters program for her influence, which had immense impact on my personality. In addition, I would like to thank my closest four co-workers Menat Hussein, Aya Beleity, Osama Zein and Nouran Mourad for supporting me during my thesis writing and covering for me at work. Furthermore, this paper would not have been possible without the great assistance of Mohamed Hanafy, a true friend who provided me with the needed motivation and inspiration in writing this paper. I am truly honoured to have him as my best friend. Lastly, I would like to dedicate this paper to my family. No words can truly express my gratitude to my mother, Randa Essam, brother, Aly Zein, sister, Nadia Zein, grandfather, Essam El Ahmady and grandmother, Nadia Qandil. I am forever indebted to your support throughout my life and I am very proud to have been raised and brought up by this family.